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Paul Miller: If God is Real, Why Do We Suffer?

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
The Truth Network Radio
July 17, 2022 10:00 pm

Paul Miller: If God is Real, Why Do We Suffer?

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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July 17, 2022 10:00 pm

If God is real, why do we suffer? Author Paul Miller proposes a new framework for life’s losses—and revolutionizes the way we see God in our pain.

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Family Life Today
Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
Focus on the Family
Jim Daly
Family Life Today
Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

Suffering often feels like a sucker punch, especially when it hits. And you're confused.

You don't know where you are. It's a way of participating in Christ. Because when all of us are in these dyings, these J-curves, what do you do when you're helpless?

You pray. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Ann Wilson.

And I'm Dave Wilson, and you can find us at or on our Family Life app. This is Family Life Today. So when I first gave my life to Christ as a junior in college, I had this belief, I think a lot of people might resonate with this, that if you give your life to Christ, it'll be better. Life will be better. Everything will be better. I mean, if I get married, my marriage will be better. Everything will be better with Jesus. It's sort of like everything's better with Coke or Pepsi.

Well, it's true in a way. It's just you weren't expecting bad things to happen. I really thought there wouldn't be pain. I mean, a month later, I end up in a hospital with a knee surgery that I thought would end my college football career.

And I remember laying in the hospital bed going, I did not sign up for this. I thought you would make my life better. You've made my life worse. You meaning Jesus. Yeah. I felt like that was sort of my lament at the time, but I think a lot of us walk into the Christian life thinking it's going to be just glorious from here on out.

And I think that's a myth we need to dispel a little bit. So we've got Paul Miller in the studio today at Family Life Today in Orlando. You've been on Family Life Today before in Little Rock, but first time to Orlando, right, Paul? Right.

That's correct. Welcome to Family Life. We're glad you're with us. It's great to be here.

Yeah. Tell our listeners a little bit about what you do. I know you write, but you teach a lot on what I just brought up, this topic of how the Christian life is really going to be. Golly, what my work and the mission that I direct is called See Jesus, and we're a discipling mission.

So I'm a discipler who learned the craft of writing in order to disciple better. So my passion is Christ formation in the church. So this J curve is one aspect of Christ formation. The J curve is like the letter J. It goes down into death and up into resurrection. And the idea of it is the Christian life is shaped like the letter J, which is Jesus' life.

He goes down into his death and up into his resurrection and enthronement. That's why the upper part of the J is perfect for that, and I borrowed the term out of the world of economics. So you think of WWJD, what would Jesus do? And I think that's great. Like, I think that people think about that.

I think that's a good thing to do. I'm not knocking that at all or belittling it. But for most people, that can translate as just mere niceness. So to become like Jesus is to become nicer, which is good, especially from where I am in Philadelphia, where niceness is kind of at a low ebb. Is that where it is, only in Philadelphia? Well, we kind of, I mean, you know, the Eagles, this is a number of years ago, but Santa came out on the field and the Eagles fans booed him.

That might happen in Detroit too, I'm not sure. But the idea of this idea of the J curve is that the normal Christian life goes down into death and up into resurrection just like Jesus' life. So the entire Christian life then is a reenacting of Jesus dying and rising. So to become like Jesus is much more than niceness, but it's entering the story of his life.

And that's really what I did not understand. Initially, again, I'm a brand new follower, I'm 20 years old, I'm a college kid. But when I picked up your book, The J Curve, you know, I didn't even pick that up.

I'm like, what is the J curve? Even looking at the subtitle, Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life. Yes, yeah.

But explain this whole idea because I don't think it's a general understanding for most of us as followers of Christ. Let me just give you one story that was one of the times where this was particularly fresh on my mind, but we were going from Philadelphia to Orlando and I was taking my daughter Kim with me. And you have six children. Yeah, we have six children. Kim's our fourth and she's got some significant disabilities.

It was a speaking weekend. I was speaking over in central Florida and I thought, you know what, I'll take Kim with me and give Jill a break for the weekend. And she has autism, so doing things the first time can kind of overwhelm her. You know, so we get to long term parking, she starts complaining because she goes through a book bag and mom didn't pack her book. We get to the bus stand to take the bus to long term parking and I've got these boxes and Kim to get on the bus and I'm panicking and the door shut on me and Kim starts laughing. I mean, that's just sort of Kim. You know, we get into security and she starts arguing as we're going through security with the TSA official.

Not the place to argue. Yeah, right. She wouldn't put her speech computer, which she speaks through, on the conveyor belt because she says, this is my voice. I just yanked it out of her hands and put it on the conveyor belt and a few other mishaps happen and we're in the back of the plane.

She's fully electronic. She's listening to her book. She's got her speech computer and the pilot comes on and says we're 12th in line for takeoff. Now, Kim can't see any of these other planes, but she hates waiting in line.

So just knowing she's in a line, like if he would have lied, it would have blessed us. Okay. So Kim has this grand mal meltdown in the back of the plane and I'm sitting there thinking this was a mistake.

I will never do this again. I bet. You know, it's hard and you're getting ready to go speak.

So it's probably hard to get that on your mind. I'm rattled. I'm embarrassed.

You know, you name it. Everybody's looking at you. Is she loud on the plane?

Oh, yeah. She's having a meltdown. I mean, she'll pound the table. We've had more than one time at a restaurant where she had a meltdown prior to the meal. And the waitress then was kind of nervous about coming around us. You know, it's not often that she has these. But you're thinking this wasn't even worth it.

Absolutely. Like this was a mistake. And then I thought as I processed it over that that night and then the next day, I realized that something I was really familiar with but I had forgotten that the entire Christian life and that piece of my life was a J-curve. I was going down into death. A special kind of J-curve called a love J-curve, which Philippians 2 talks about, where Jesus doesn't grasp at having a quiet weekend.

You know, I'm translating Philippians 2. And he descends into an airport with Kim, my daughter. And I take a burden away from my wife.

And it gives you a frame for looking at life that just has so many side blessings to it. So, you've processed this on this trip. You decide, okay, now that I go through this J-curve and I'm dying to self, I'm going to come back up, did that help you? Like, what did it do? Did you think I'll do this again and bring Kim with me? Yes. And I ended up doing it again.

And we actually traveled out to Little Rock together a couple times, which was fine unless there was a screaming kid on the plane that drove her nuts. But what it does, it gives meaning to my suffering because I know where I am. When you suffer, whatever it is, suffering often feels like a sucker punch, especially when it hits. And you're confused. You don't know where you are.

And it locates you. You know, where am I? I'm not in pain on the back of the plane, you know, an emotional plane. But it's a way of participating in Christ. Because when all of us are in these dyings, these J-curves, what do you do when you're helpless? You pray. And so, you're in a fellowship of His suffering, what Paul calls in Philippians 3.

You are not alone. You're weakened. So, your pride is weakened.

Your will is weakened. And the resurrection, there's so many different kinds of resurrections that come out of it. But one of the most immediate resurrections is a humbled self.

Because I don't know how to do life. You know, Jesus helped me to be patient as I endure this being shamed, as it were, on the back of a plane. Yeah, one of the things that I found fascinating watching you teach the J-curve was how you connected Philippians 2.

I want to read it because I'm thinking some of our listeners may not be real familiar with the words. And then just have you comment on how that works in terms of Jesus lived the J-curve. I'm just reading Philippians 2, verse 5. It says, In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset, here it is, mindset as Christ Jesus, who being in the very nature of God did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage. Rather, He made Himself nothing, kenosis, by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man. He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Therefore, God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father. Now, as I read that now with the J-curve in my mind, I see it. I want our listeners to see it like I see it because I've heard you teach it. So, walk us through that because I think you're so right.

When we get that mindset, it changes the way we live every minute of every day. Right. And so, if I know I'm in Jesus' story, then it kind of gives it a kind of a glory, a glow to it almost. But think of the downward move of the J.

It actually splits into two parts. The first part, the incarnation, I call the easy part. Now, we actually don't talk to Jesus like how difficult was that, but you know what I mean? Right. But there's clearly His self emptying and it's talking there about His humility, His humbling Himself.

And then the second part is then He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. And it's really helpful to see those two parts because the first part is like engagement and wedding, the honeymoon, no kidding. You know what I mean?

Yeah. And then you bear the cost of that love. And then you have to work through tensions in your marriage, you know, having kids. So, think of it, the first part is the commitment and the descent. And then the next part is where you bear the cost of it. So, the first part I call a love J curve.

And love J curves always lead to suffering J curves. Let's say it's marriage. Yeah. So, you kind of define that, the beginning is the honeymoon. Right.

Everything's wonderful. Right. And then does every marriage go into a descent? Not only just every marriage, but every time you concentrate in love, you go into a descent.

And it really helps you to realize that like, this isn't a marriage problem, this is what the Christian life is like. And what we do is we're, as we're down to the nasty part, what we do is we rethink the first part. Yes.

You know? Yeah, exactly. And think, you know, look back up at the J and said, look, if I hadn't made this commitment, I would never be in this mess. But that's the structure of love. It's the structure of God's heart, you know?

And it's such a beautiful thing. Like, usually if you're suffering with your kid, like teenagers or in a relationship where there's some tension in the marriage, a lot of the suffering is just humility. It's just very humbling, you know, or someone is treating you badly. And to receive that, like Jesus is in a J curve, at the bottom of the J curve at Gethsemane, to take that cup and receive the cup. And to say, Father, I take what you've given me, you know? And it's just this act of the will transforms the whole story, you know? So, you're no longer in a story of you pursuing life, but you're in the story of Jesus. I'm thinking of our marriage when we were really struggling. Yeah. And I would say we were at the bottom.

We had descended. I mean, six months after our wedding day, she says, the biggest mistake of my life was marrying you. She says that out loud to me. And I felt the same thing.

She's looking back up to you. Exactly. But in that, at the bottom of that, you're right. I came to an end of myself of saying, God, I have nothing, but all I can do is offer myself to you and this marriage to you. I'm also thinking when our kids were little and I was struggling, thinking, I'm here. I have no life. I have no, I would always say, I have no life. And it was that point of another, it was a brokenness of, but I have you, Jesus. I have nothing but you. And it also revealed my selfishness, my sinfulness.

And it was that apart from you, I can do nothing. So, you're saying there's a beauty to that point. That's when the beauty of Jesus emerges out of us.

I think all of us are perfectionists and that's not bad. It's just what's perfect. So, it's not so much my circumstances are perfect, but by continually living in and receiving these dyings, that what becomes more and more like Jesus, what becomes perfect is my spirit, is I begin to look like Jesus.

So, His gentleness, His forbearance, His honesty, truth. It's not like it's just one side here. So, the perfection is not in the circumstances, but in the beauty of Jesus.

Or I can check out, right? Right. There's part of me that's like, yeah, it's beautiful.

Right. Because when you said it earlier, I'm like, you've got to explain how it's beautiful because a lot of us, we hate pain. We get in that suffering. We blame death. We don't want death. We want life. I want resurrection. I don't want.

And so, there's a choice I have to make in the middle of that, right? That's David Ann Wilson with Paul Miller on family life today. We'll hear Paul's response in just a minute. But first, all this week, when you help reach more families with God's truth by giving to family life, we want to send you a copy of Kay Weymah's book, The Peace Project, a 30-day experiment practicing thankfulness, kindness, and mercy.

You can get your copy when you give this week at or when you call with your donation at 800-358-6329. That's 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. All right, now back to David Ann's conversation with Paul Miller and the choice to trust God in the middle of suffering. That danger of checking out is escaping the J curve. Then it always lands you at something worse.

You know what I mean? But that's why it is so critical as you're going through this death to receive it, to take the cup. I would write that out as a prayer. Father, I take this difficult spouse.

I take this difficult child. It's an act of the will, so you're surrendering your internal heart's demand that God give you a pain-free life. When you do that, you're entering Christ in new ways. Is that something you had to do on that plane flight?

It was just that evening later on because I had been doing a lot of taking the cup. The thing about the J curve, we forget it because what we want is sort of the slanted line going up. Our emotions rule in the moment sometimes. We want to go from the lower part of the J to the upper part of the J. That's kind of our flesh's default, so that keeps coming back in. As I thought about it, I thought to just some of the ways that played out on that trip with Kim that Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4, he says, death is at work in us, but life in you.

Sometimes our dying is someone else's resurrection. The next day, we went to one of the parks. Kim had lost her temper again because we missed the train to take us somewhere anyway. I called home, and my daughter Ashley picked up. She said, every five minutes, it's so nice without Kim around. We love Kim dearly.

When she's not getting her way, she'll let you know. My death was a gift to Jill. I forgot the pattern that the love J curve leads to the suffering J curve. If you're going to love, you're going to suffer.

If you know that, it doesn't throw you. Friday night when we did that, on Saturday, I was speaking and getting filmed. And so, God was giving me a gift of humility, a dying to prepare me for the next day's rising. So, he was ministering to my soul. Which is so interesting because we never think he's ministering to our soul when we're in a hardship or a hard place. But sometimes that's when he does his most beautiful work.

Yeah. So, sometimes the dying and rising are almost simultaneous. And you can see this in Jesus' life that it comes through particularly in Luke, where you'll see dying and rising paired. So, like at his baptism, the humility of his baptism, and then the heavens opening. How magnificent his birth is, but it's only shepherds that show up and a couple crazy guys from the east, you know. So, there's all these pairings of dying and rising all through his life. I thought it was interesting that you say the Holy Spirit finds your weakness irresistible. Think of the J-curve that you read, Philippians 2. So, the down J-curve in Philippians 2 goes all the way down to Jesus' death, even death on a cross. And then Paul has this word that turns at the word, therefore. God has highly exalted him.

And the idea of that word, therefore, in the Greek, the sense of it is that that is why. I choke up so easily, so bear with me on that. Because it's just so often, and I've lived so many of these. Jesus dying, the resurrection is his Father's response to his obedience. It just sort of takes your breath away. So, the resurrections are embedded in the deaths.

They're like the launching pads. So, without the dying, there's no rising. I mean, obviously, we know that in Jesus' life.

I mean, I've known both men and women who've endured in a hard marriage, where there's no grounds for divorce, and they've been honest with their spouse, and it hasn't worked. And you can see their dying affect their children. You know, that it brings life. That there's, it's the Father, sorry. I should have warned you about this, that I feel these things so deeply.

It's so beautiful. That God is so excited by our deaths, by our obedience, our ongoing surrender, that he gifts us with the Spirit, and that's what resurrection is. That's what he did with his son on Easter morning, is he gifted his, sorry, he gifted his obedient son with the resurrection. And that, and the whole Christian life then, is not just dying, but it's waiting for and entering these resurrections that are just remarkable. When we're talking about enduring in a hard marriage and staying when we're at the bottom of that J-curve, we are not talking about enduring any kind of abusive situation. Physical abuse, sexual abuse. That means if you're in that situation, get safe and get out. That doesn't mean get divorced, but just get safe.

God can still heal that marriage, but you need to protect yourself. Well, you said that as children watch their parents die. What do you mean by that? Like, there's a beauty to that. Well, by that I mean, say, a parent enduring in a hard marriage.

You're saying there's a beauty to that. Yeah, because what you said earlier, Dave, about the exit. If you don't take the emotional exit of bitterness. Of checking out and being bitter. Yeah, you know, and I would say bitterness and sort of constant quarreling. You know, you'll see some couples that have been married, they're in their 70s, and they're still snipping at one another. And, you know, if honesty didn't work the first 50 years, you might want to try a different strategy. I mean, it's just a thought, you know what I mean?

Something to run, you know, just something to think about. And so if you don't go through the doors of bitterness, gossip or crankiness or quarreling, but you take the cup that God has given me, a difficult spouse, and I'm going to take this cup. What can I control? I can control how I respond. I can control gentleness.

And I can't even do that. I need the Spirit of Jesus to be in me. Yeah, you know, as I listen, one of the thoughts I have as we wrap this up is expectations are so critical for us to understand in marriage, but especially in our Christian walk. It's like when you're on an airplane and the pilot comes on and says, hey, fasten your seatbelt.

Turbulence is about to happen. When it happens, you're like, oh, you know, I'm prepared for this. But when we walk into Christian life thinking it's only going to be resurrection, there's going to be no death and suffering, it's harmful. But if you're ready for it, it doesn't make it easier, but it does prepare you, right? Yeah, and just a very clear example of that is in 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul told the Thessalonians that they were going to suffer.

And we're probably only talking like a month later. And so, Paul has prepared them for what the normal Christian life. So, every new Christian ought to hear right away about the J-curve, that it's not your life anymore. Your life is going to look like Jesus' life. And it's out of his love that refines us. It's not that he's a bad God that wants bad things to happen.

It's his love and his mercy. And I think it's also very important that every marriage needs to understand the J-curve. You're going to suffer. There's going to be death.

It's going to be hard. It doesn't mean your marriage is done. It means you're living the life that God's called you to be. And if you are obedient, there can be a resurrection on the other side.

And a surrender. I'm not telling you what that's going to look like, but God's going to walk you through the J-curve. You've been listening to Dave and Anne Wilson with Paul Miller on Family Life today. The teen years are coming and life's issues will change and get more complex. And we want to help you be there for your preteen. You can start talking with a resource from Family Life called Passport to Purity.

You can take 25% off with the code PASSPORT at If you know anyone who needs to hear today's conversation, be sure to share it from wherever you get your podcasts. And while you're there, a simple way you can help more people discover God's plan for families is by leaving a rating and review for Family Life Today. And tomorrow, Dave and Anne Wilson will continue their conversation with Paul Miller and explain how facing triumphs and suffering is a central part of the Christian life. On behalf of Dave and Anne Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a production of Family Life, a crew ministry, helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-23 00:05:47 / 2023-03-23 00:16:43 / 11

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